If your child has just been diagnosed as autistic, you’ll find there’s no shortage of people wanting to give you advice. There’s a huge range of experts out there, and endless blogs by other parents of autistic children.
But Briannon Lee, an autistic social worker and scientist, urges you to start somewhere else.
“If you feel like spending hours on Google looking for treatments, please wait until you have first spent hours online reading the words of autistic people,” Lee tells Mamamia. “Listening to them will give you an understanding of what your children are experiencing now, and a sense of the full lives autistic adults are living. You will find most autistic people like myself would never want to change who we are, despite the fact that we live in communities that rarely understand or accommodate our needs.”
Lee believes autistic children should never be forced to do things that cause them distress.
“Eye contact is excruciating for many autistic people like myself. Being pushed to eat a range of foods is hard when we just want something simple and predictable, or have huge sensory aversions. Being forced to sit still, and especially stop stimming, harms us. Stimming – the repetition of movements or sounds to soothe or stimulate the senses – is like breathing for autistic people. It helps our bodies and minds relax and process the world.
“There is nothing harmful to others if we don’t make eye contact, we flap our hands, or we don’t try new foods. It’s only looked down on because people want us to ‘act normal’.”
Lee says pressuring children to conform to these norms is very stressful. It also tells them that the way they are wired is not accepted by the people who love them.
“Some autistic adults learn to glance at people when needed during important conversations, or fidget instead of flapping their hands and rocking during a job interview. Some autistic people choose never to change their natural ways of moving and communicating, or simply cannot even if they wanted to, and that should be completely acceptable.”
Lee has three autistic children herself, who she homeschools. She says some autistic children love school, if they are well supported and accommodated.